There are lots of books about architecture, but there aren’t too many books about architects, at least within the realm of fiction. Or perhaps, there aren’t too many books that actually incorporate architects and architecture in a philosophical or meaningful way, at least within the realm of fiction. See, architecture seems to be a popular occupation for young, urban, fictional, professionals, probably due to it’s synthesis of art and creativity with a more logical, scientific ethos. But this portrayal seldom has any bearing on actual plot. For example, in the movie 500 Days of Summer – which is very good by the way – the main character, Tom, works at a greeting card company, even though he has trained to be an architect. As the plot advances, he “starts sketching again,” reading books about architecture, and by the end he quits the company and starts applying for a job at architectural firms. But despite saying something about Tom’s character, this passion is largely superficial; he could have been a musician, or a graphic designer, or a teacher, and the plot would have been the same. I’m not trying to say that this is a bad thing, only that doesn’t incorporate architecture in a meaningful way.
One book that does manage to do this is Asterios Polyp, by David Mazzucchelli. I should probably come right out and say that Asterios Polyp is, to be specific, a graphic novel. I say this because some people have negative associations with this form of literature, probably because it seems more closely related to comic books than to more “sophisticated” kinds of written works. I assure you though, the graphic novel has come a long way from it’s comic book origins, and has blossomed into a beautiful and unique art form of its own. And Asterios Polyp is not just another graphic novel, Glen Weldon of NPR selected it as one of the best five books of 2009.
It’s the story of the pompous, self-aggrandizing, professor of architecture, Asterios Polyp. He is a well-respected, extremely talented “paper architect,” that is to say, none of his designs have ever been built, though he has won a number of prestigious design competitions. The plot follows the degradation of Asterios’ relationship with his wife, and his abandonment of the cultivated, intellectual life he has lived for so long. It is replete with philosophy of all kinds, as well as a staggering variety of superb illustrations. It’s also a very quick read due to it’s graphic nature. If you’ve got a spare hour or two, and an interest in art, architecture, design, or good stories, you won’t regret giving this book a read.